High Priest in Heaven


39 Presenting Jesus Christ to the Hebrews

by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013

Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Hebrews 3:1

Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews for Jewish Christians. When Jesus came to earth, His life, teachings, and healings were a cataclysmic change from what people expected of the Messiah. By His example, teachings, and healings while on earth, Jesus cut across the beliefs, lifestyles, and politics of the nation. In every confrontation with the leaders of the nation, He was able to expose their ignorance, false beliefs, and wishful thinking. Our society today is again ignorant of the teachings of Christ, too willing to believe strange doctrines, and not willing to see or act on the problems we face.

The epistle to the Hebrews describes aspects of the ceremonial law, covenant, and the priesthood of Christ, including practical applications for belief and practice. In this chapter, we will reflect on Jesus as Redeemer and High Priest in heaven.


Hebrew Christians

The Hebrews had centuries of tradition. They also had the writings of the prophets. God demonstrated His presence among them repeatedly and in different ways. The people spent much time studying and discussing the Scriptures. They rested in their beliefs. In spite of this, the leading priests and rabbis, and possibly the majority of the people had false expectations of the Messiah and false concepts of what He was to do. It was the leaders of the people who led the way in rejecting Him, and they were responsible for His eventual crucifixion.

In Hebrew society, there were people who were “in expectation” of the Messiah’s soon appearing and who welcomed Him when He came. However, even His disciples, who loved Him, did not fully understand His mission until after the resurrection. Even then, it required the teaching of the Holy Spirit to make the change. For many of the Jewish believers, it was hard to give up centuries of tradition. Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews for such people. It is one of the deepest and most carefully written books in the Bible. “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). In this salutation, Paul shows his love for his fellow Israelites.


Jesus Christ, the Son

In Hebrews, Paul pictures Jesus’ mediation in heaven. It is a continuation of what He did while on earth. In every possible way, Paul tried to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus is the Messiah and the heavenly High Priest. The purpose of the sacrifices and the ceremonies was only to point to Him, and it is only through Him that we humans are saved.

Chapter one begins with a picture of Jesus, the Son. He is Heir of all things and Creator of the worlds. He is the express image and glory of the Father. When He had purged the sins of humanity, He sat down on the right hand of the Father. He is High Priest and King. If the creation of God should become old and worn out and perish, Jesus does not change. He lives forever. As Paul wrote in the final chapter: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).

In chapter two, Jesus becomes human and is “made a little lower than the angels.” Angels are holy, just, and intolerant of disobedience. God made human beings a little lower than the angels and gave them dominion over all the creation on this earth. Jesus condescended to come as a man, experiencing temptation, suffering, and even death. Through Jesus, we have mercy and salvation-He is still human as our merciful and faithful High Priest! Considering the wonderful sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ, dare we neglect the mercy and salvation that Jesus gives?

In chapter three, Paul depicts Moses as faithful in all that he did when Israel left Egypt-as their leader, lawgiver, and mediator with God. While Moses was faithful as a servant, Jesus is faithful as God’s Son. Moses had to deal with complaints, rebellion, and insubordination from a stubborn people. Jesus, the Son, suffered even deeper rejection but offered grace and salvation to His people. Paul urges that every one of the children of Israel exhort one another to belief while it is “today” when that rest is available, contrasting it with “the provocation” and “the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:8).

Chapter four is an often-misunderstood chapter. God had promised Israel rest after the finished work of God in delvering them from Egypt and giving them the Promised Land. Paul compares this rest with the Sabbath rest. However, God could not give Israel the rest He promised them because of their apostasy and unbelief. Of necessity, He can only give it later. Jesus is patient, touched with human infirmities, tempted as a man as we are. He opened the way to the throne of grace that we may come boldly for help in time of need.


Jesus, High Priest in Heaven

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Hebrews discuss the priesthood of Christ after the “order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17, 21). Melchizedek was a priest of God and the king of Salem (Gen. 14:18).

A man cannot make himself a priest; he must be called by God. Of Christ, the Father said, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee,” and, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:5, 6). As a human being, Jesus has compassion on the sinner because He also suffered temptation with the risk of sinning (Heb. 4:15). Christ “learned “| obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb..5:8).

Paul challenges his Jewish brethren to grow in grace, even attaining perfection (Heb. 6:1). They must move on from the basic doctrines of Christ and study the deeper truths of Scripture. They must obtain the faith and endurance of Abraham. Through the cross, Jesus entered within the vail and opened the way to the throne of grace, through which we may go on to perfection!

Melchizedek was a priest “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3). Melchizedek, a priest and king, foreshadowed the priesthood of Christ. Had God not called Jesus to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, He would not have otherwise had the genealogy to be a priest, being from the tribe of Judah.


Mediator of a Better Covenant

As we get into chapter 9, we find Jesus’ ministry compared, not with the covenant, but with a corrupted view of the sacrifices and ceremonies of the sanctuary. This was a problem among Jewish Christians. They could not understand that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wholly replaced the animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Temple. With the delay in Jesus’ return, they were being drawn back to their Jewish roots.

At His ascension, Jesus Christ went directly to the Father, to sit at His right hand. He is a Priest-King after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 8:6). He had made sacrifice for the sins of humankind. Now as our High Priest, He presents His blood before the Father that all who believe in Him will be cleansed (Heb. 1:3).

Humans cannot fully understand why Jesus, second person of the Godhead, became a human being and lived on the earth (Heb. 2:7, 9, 11). But by doing so, He became “captain of their salvation” (Heb. 2:10; see also Heb. 2:14).

The work of Creation was finished in six days, and God rested on the seventh day. Jesus went to the cross and defeated sin and Satan that all who have faith and believe in His finished work might be saved (Heb. 4). It was the finished work of the covenant, and in this we have assurance and rest.

God gave to Israel, through Moses, the sanctuary patterned after the heavenly sanctuary. It was an earthly tabernacle and an earthly priesthood pointing forward to the prophesied Redeemer. These earthly things, while glorious, were temporary and would pass away when Jesus the Redeemer came.

The people responded with a first covenant (Ex. 19:8; 23:20-23; 24:3-11), which was faulty, based on human promises, and lacking in grace. It was the historical old covenant that was soon broken.

After Moses interceded with God, the people were brought back under the Abrahamic (new) covenant. The sanctuary services and the priesthood were given as an illustration of the covenant, and an easily understood means for sinners to see how the coming Redeemer would take the penalty for sin and provide grace and pardon for humankind.

Before long, most people forgot the promised Redeemer and looked to mere performance of sacrifices and rituals as a means of obtaining pardon for sins, atonement, and salvation. It was the old covenant experience again, depending on human works, and ineffective to offer pardon for sins or salvation. It was a human tendency to “be religious and do religious things” yet to continue to live in sin.

Jesus came and gave a more excellent ministry, a better covenant (the new covenant), true and real promises, and the heavenly priesthood.

In the early Christian church there were Jewish converts who could not give up their dependence on animal sacrifices, rituals, and an earthly temple (Heb. 9). To maintain and depend on these outmoded ceremonies was to deny what Christ had done on the cross. It was Paul’s desire to help these Jewish converts to fully understand and believe in what Christ had done for them.

Jesus’ willing sacrifice on the cross was the single, effectual sacrifice for sin. It is through His sacrifice that the animal sacrifices of the previous centuries were effective in pardoning sin (Heb. 9:12, 15, 24, 28). In the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus mediates His own blood to pardon sin and change people’s lives. He made the sacrifice once, and He now “ever liveth” to make intercession.


The Theme of Living by Faith

Hebrews 10 emphasizes again that animal sacrifices cannot “make” human lives “perfect.” Verse 10 says: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” Then verses 16 and 17 of the chapter repeat the new covenant promise. The chapter also introduces the righteous living by faith in the context of continuing in faith until Jesus returns (Heb. 10:37-39).

Hebrews 11 is the well-known faith chapter. Faith is “substance”-something to hold onto to stabilize one’s life.1 It is evidence, based on what a person believes. It is trust in the promises and work of God. It is an emotional commitment and a love for God. -| without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

Why would a chapter on faith be inserted in the epistle to the Hebrews when the emphasis of the epistle has been on Jesus’ priesthood, the new covenant of grace, and a discussion of the corrupted view of the ceremonial law held by the Jews? It is because some Jewish Christians could not let go of the tradition of sacrifices, ceremonies, meticulous observance of the law, and belief in their lineage from Abraham. These activities were all works-oriented and a source of personal pride for what an observant Jew could accomplish.

When God presented the covenant to Abraham, he “believed God” and he “fell on his face,” having faith that God would do all that He said (Gen. 15:6; 17:3). His was a response of faith. The New Testament contains much about faith, and faith is what God has always looked for in His people and what He desires in His people awaiting Jesus’ return.

What some Jewish Christians were lacking was faith. These were the Judaizers.2 They needed faith based on what Jesus Christ had done on the cross, a trust in grace to make a person a new creature, and a love for Christ that empowers one’s commitment to Him. Hebrews chapter 11 is a collection of stories of outstanding heroes of faith and an appeal for all Christians to live by faith.

In Hebrews 12, faith is compared to a race. An effective faith requires practice and endurance. The Bible speaks of the “faith of Jesus,” a faith which holds on even when there seems to be no hope. Christians must develop a faith that will endure weariness, delay, and hunger. Jesus gives every person a spark of faith (John 1:9), and He strengthens that faith until it can stand testing and trouble.

Each Christian must “make straight paths for his [or her] feet” (Heb. 12:13) and must believe and follow Christ in all things. He or she will stumble into “besetting, impulsive sins,” but Jesus is our advocate to pardon sin. For continued, conscious, rebellious sin, there is no sacrifice (Heb. 6:4-6). In the fully committed life, there is peace and holiness. These are attitudes that prepare one to see the Lord.


A Faith That Works by Love

Hebrews 13 turns to routine aspects of church life. It lists five essential Christian qualities we need:

1. Brotherly love. One of the most difficult things to do is to love and appreciate those with whom we deal most closely. It may be easier to love someone who lives in another country. However, we cannot be Christians without loving the “brethren.”

2. Hospitality to strangers. God’s people sometimes need to travel in their work, and it is a blessing if they can stay in a home and sit at a table.

3. Ministry to those in prison. In some countries, prisoners need help from those who are on the “outside,” even food at times. They always need visits and encouragement. This is not an easy task. Prisoners need to be sought out. Non-family visitors may need qualifications. Though it may be difficult, the qualifications are obtainable.

4. Purity. In ancient Greek society, sexual promiscuity was the norm. Even in western societies, it is becoming more common. Christians are to be different-especially in this regard.

5. Contentment with what a person has. Materialism and money are the new idolatry. The Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Materialism can cause disorder and complication in one’s life. If people buy a boat, they soon find that they do not own the boat; the boat owns them! The final chapter of Hebrews deals with other aspects of the Christian life. Christians must be loyal to their faith and to the leadership of the church because God uses church leaders to bring blessings to the church members. To find fault with the pastor may cut off an avenue for God to use in giving someone guidance.

Besides loyalty, Christians must show “holy boldness.” It takes courage to stand for one’s faith, yet this is what God wants each person to do. God calls Christians to have faith and boldness and to be willing to give up everything for Christ, who gave up all for us.

God’s people also need to be worshipful. Others can see and feel a worshipful attitude, which is a witness for God.

In the final verses, Paul asks that others pray for him as he works with different people. Through the resurrected Christ, we have peace and blessing. Christians are never alone when doing God’s will.

The epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus Christ crucified and risen again. He is the heavenly High Priest, the Advocate, and the Judge for His people. Hebrews emphasizes the meaning of the new covenant and appeals to God’s people to believe in what Jesus has done and consent to the grace that prepares us to meet Jesus when He comes again.


Endnotes

1. The word “substance” comes from the Greek hupostasis, which G. Harder renders “confident assurance” (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975, 1986], vol. 1, p. 713).

2. The term “Judaizers” is not used in the Bible. Writers use this term to describe Jewish Christians, who could not let go of circumcision, Jewish traditions, and the ceremonial law. As a matter of principle, they felt that the new Gentile converts needed to observe these Jewish customs and, in effect, become Jews before they could be saved. Later, in a time of apostasy, the popular Christian church changed the day of worship from the seventh day to Sunday, the first day. Many opposed this change, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy termed those who continued to worship on the seventh-day “Judaizers.” For more information about the Judaizers, see the following websites: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08537a.htm, which is an excellent discussion from the Catholic Encyclopedia, and http://www.deusvitae.com/faith/denominations/judaizers. html, which emphasizes the reaction of Paul in his epistles to the Judaizers.